The World in Words

The World in Words is a podcast about languages and the people who speak them. What happens to the brain on bilingualism? Does it matter that so many languages are dying out? Should we fear the rise of global English? Is the United States losing its linguistic cohesion? Why are Chinese tech words so inventive? Why does Icelandic have so many cool swearwords? Patrick Cox and Nina Porzucki bring you stories from the world’s linguistic frontlines. Also at



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      How soccer became multilingual

      Professional soccer used to export its English-language terminology, giving other languages words like 'penalty' and 'goal.' But now, the roles are reversed. English-speakers use expressions loaned from other languages to describe skill moves: 'rabona,' 'panenka,' 'gegenpress.'



      How has Basque survived?

      Basque is a language isolate. Spoken in a region that spans northern Spain across the border into southern France, it is not part of the Indo-European language family. It’s not related to Spanish or French or German or Greek or any known language. The origins of the language are a bit of mystery. In fact you can almost hear the history of the European continent in the language according to Basque language scholar Xabier Irujo. “The Basque language has words coming from all languages that hav...


       2018-05-31  34m

      Your brain on improv

      Ever wondered about people who can improvise on stage? How the words seem to come so easily? Neuroscientist Charles Limb and comedian Anthony Veneziale did. First came the bromance, then Veneziale found himself improvising inside an fMRI machine.


       2018-05-24  22m

      My language is my home

      Lea is a teenager born and raised in Japan. Her mother is Chinese, her father American. She speaks English, Mandarin and Japanese but isn’t sure which of them is her mother tongue. Karolina lives in Boston but grew up in several countries and speaks a bunch of languages. Her English is perfect but she doesn’t feel completely at home in it, or in American culture. Welcome to the world of third culture kids, a fast-growing group of people who fit in everywhere and nowhere.


       2018-05-17  21m

      Abandoning your mother tongue

      Alina Simone was born in the Soviet Union to Russian-speaking parents and now lives in New York. She initially raised her daughter to speak both English and Russian. So why did she give up on Russian and send her daughter to a Chinese immersion school?


       2018-05-09  18m

      If you could talk to the animals

      Do you talk to your dog? Does your dog talk back to you? Dr. Doolittle’s dream of talking to the animals is one many of us can share. But what do all of those howls and growls mean and is it really language? This week on the podcast NOVA’s Ari Daniel joins us to explore the communication patterns of three different species: Túngara frogs, Humpback whales and Diana monkeys. And if you listen and still want more...continue to nerd out with NOVA. They're going deep this month with a new prog...


       2018-04-25  28m

      The Story of 'X'

      From X-rated to Gen X to Latinx, the meaning of 'X' has shifted while retaining an edgy, transgressive quality. We trace the meandering semantic route of 'X' through the 20th and 21st centuries, with help from Afro-Latinx writer Jack Qu'emi, retired linguistics professor Ron Smyth and film historian Adrian Smith.


       2018-04-03  26m

      The three-letter-word that rocked a nation

      In 2012, a little known Swedish press published a children’s book that sparked a nationwide debate. The debate wasn’t about the plot of the book, nor the pictures, but concerned a three-letter word used by the main character of the story. That word was the relatively new, gender neutral pronoun “hen.” Traditionally, Swedish does not have a gender neutral pronoun for people. "Hen" tapped into an ongoing conversation in the country was already having about gender and equality.This week on the ...


       2018-03-27  29m

      A British Mx Tape

      The UK is obsessed with honorifics. Remember, this is the land of Barons and Earls and Ladies and Sirs and the ultimate HRH, "Her Royal Highness." But even if you can't claim HRH, selecting "Mr." or "Mrs." or "Miss" is a standard part of filling out many forms and documents. Very often these titles are gendered. But what if you don't identify with either gender? Or what if you don't want to reveal your marital status? Some folks are trying to ensure that you don't have to be a doctor or...


       2018-03-19  27m

      The secretive language of pro wrestling

      In 1984, the professional wrestler “Dr. D" David Schultz smacked the TV journalist John Stoessel to the ground backstage at Madison Square Garden. Why? One word, kayfabe. If you’ve never heard of the word “kayfabe,” don’t worry. This week on podcast we throw on some tights and get into the ring to explore a word you were never supposed to hear. Plus, there's a lot of excellent, throw-back wrestling tunes.


       2018-03-10  32m